A fruit less ordinary
PUBLISHED: 11:13 03 November 2015 | UPDATED: 11:13 03 November 2015
Linda Duffin marries two seasonal flavours, quince and pheasant, in a Moorish dish
Quinces are in season now and I urge you to get your hands on some of these fabulously fragrant fruits.
A bowlful will perfume your entire kitchen, and just one quince added to an apple pie or crumble will lift it out of the ordinary. The quince is one of the oldest cultivated fruits and it is thought that many of the ancient references to apples actually referred to quinces. There is even a suggestion that the apple Eve plucked from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was really a quince.
In ancient Greece they were sacred to Aphrodite and were a ritual gift at weddings. Plutarch reported that the bride would nibble on one to sweeten her breath before kissing her new husband.
I sincerely hope he was referring to a cooked and sweetened quince, because eaten raw they are unpleasantly sour and grainy. It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘pucker up’. And they are so hard that my husband and I have been known to wear helmets to pick them to save ourselves from quince-induced concussion.
Cook them, though, and they are transformed. They work just as well in savoury dishes as in desserts. Pheasant is not really at its best and fattest until after Christmas, but if you are lucky enough to be given a bird or two in the meantime and are looking for a different way to cook them, you might like to try this mildly-spiced North African tagine. It’s very more-ish (as well as Moorish) and keeps the birds beautifully moist.
Pheasant & Quince Tagine
1 or 2 quinces, 4 pheasant joints (breasts only or breasts and legs), 70g butter and a splash of oil to stop it burning, 1 tsp each of freshly ground coriander and cumin, 1/4 tsp cayenne, 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed, 2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped, 400ml water or chicken stock, 1/2 cinnamon stick, 4tbsp runny honey, 1 large bunch of coriander, roughly chopped, salt and freshly ground pepper, 1 strip of lemon rind, 1/2 tsp saffron threads, dissolved in a little warm water
Wash the fluff off the quince then peel, quarter and core it. They’re rock hard so don’t let your knife slip. Put the pieces in acidulated water until you need them as they turn brown very quickly. Melt the butter with the oil in a tagine or cast iron casserole. Brown the pheasant until golden on both sides. Remove and set aside. Add the cumin, coriander and cayenne to the pan, plus the onion and garlic, and cook for a minute or two. Put the pheasant joints back in and pour over the stock or water. Now add the cinnamon, half the honey and a handful of the coriander leaves. Season lightly with salt and pepper (you’ll be reducing the sauce later and you don’t want it to be too salty). Bring to the boil, cover, turn the heat down very low and cook the pheasant for 30-45 minutes or until tender. This really depends on how old and tough/young and juicy your pheasant is.
Meanwhile, put the quince pieces into a saucepan with just enough water to cover. Add the lemon rind and remaining honey and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and poach until the quince is tender. If the quince is very ripe this may only take a couple of minutes – it’s important that they stay whole, so keep an eye on them.
When the pheasant is cooked, remove the joints and keep them warm. Add about 3 tbsp of the quince poaching liquid and the saffron to the pheasant juices and reduce to a thickish sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Put the pheasant back in the pan together with any juices. Slice the quinces and add to the sauce. Heat through gently. Scatter with fresh coriander and serve with couscous.
Linda Duffin is a Suffolk-based food writer who likes to cook and eat seasonally and locally. She blogs as her alter ego Mrs Portly at mrsportlyskitchen.wordpress.com